Monday, July 14, 2008

Designed to Sell

OK, I'll admit it. I'm nebby (that's Pittsburghese for nosey). I'm especially nebby when it comes to other people's houses. Is the inside glamorous or run down? Kitchen cluttered or high tech? Yard pristine or overgrown? Bedrooms cramped or spacious?

It's why, when I have time I love to watch HGTV shows like "Designed to Sell" and "House Hunters." I also religiously read the real estate listings in the Sunday paper, and like to surf realtor websites to see what's for sale locally and what people are asking, even though my husband and I are not in the market.

You've probably noticed, real estate companies have made the process of finding a house a lot more interactive than it was even 5 years ago. Most for sale signs include an MLS (Multiple Listing Service) number code, which is also included in any newspaper listings. These codes allow curious homeowners to find out more about the house on the spot, either by calling a hotline, plugging in the home and hearing a recording about the features, or going to the realtor website and using the code to find an on-line listing for the property, including in most cases, photographs of the inside of the home. But getting a recorded message telling me about the inside of the house is certainly not the same as seeing actual pictures of it. And it's awkward and time consuming to have to write down the MLS number or drag your newspaper over to the computer to check out the home on line.

So when one of my classmates introduced me to an emerging marketing technology called Quick Response codes (QR codes for short) a light bulb went on. I had never heard of QR codes before he introduced them in a discussion post thread. These are two dimensional bar codes, invented by a Japanese company back in 1994. While they're popular in Japan, they've never really caught on here in the U.S. They were first used to track car parts, but today QR codes are used in applications aimed at mobile phone users. QR codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, even business cards. Someone with a camera phone that has the correct reader can scan the QR code, sending the phone's browser to the URL.

So, I'm wondering, why couldn't realtors attach QR codes to the sign outside a home for sale (or on the brochures that they often provide in a plastic box attached to the sign) allowing someone passing by a property to get to the URL for the property and check it out on line on the spot? The realtor could even put a QR code in newspaper listings, allowing the reader to scan to the URL for a property as they sit back in their easy chair, cup of coffee in one hand and enabled mobile phone in the other on a Sunday morning. Not only would the potential home buyer get to see photographs and even videos of the inside of the house instantly, the QR code could direct the phone to the realtor's phone number, ready to dial, or even give directions. A Seattle realtor is already using MLS codes to send photos, virtual tours to the cell phones of leads -- QR codes can't be far behind.

The only drawback here, of course, is that most Americans don't know what QR codes are. Any realtor attempting to use the codes to market houses would have to do some pretty heavy duty consumer education. This could include putting everything from "how to" instructions in property brochures and in Sunday newspaper listings, to pitching stories about the new technology to local newspapers, radio and television stations. It would be a challenge. But if QR codes become a successful component of marketing property, the realtor who tries it first could get a leg up on the competition in building brand loyalty with consumers. And isn't that's what every marketer is looking to do?


Heidi M said...

Very forward thinking, Anne. I'm sure we'll see this more and more in the future. It will be interesting to see QR codes be introduced in the American market.

Anne said...

I do think that educating people about how to use them will be a real challenge, as will the fact that not everyone has a cell phone that can use this technology. But I guess it will only be a matter of time!